Although many school districts in Bell County have experienced slower growth rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students continue to flock to the Belton Independent School District.
At a Belton ISD School Board meeting on Monday, Bob Templeton, a demographer from Zonda, discussed the current state of the local housing market and the current impact of the economy on the Bell County District.
“We’re seeing a continued high volume of new home construction, and I really don’t see anything changing that,” he said. “This region is seeing very strong growth opportunities due to its location in Austin and (Dallas-Fort Worth).”
Templeton said he expects the Temple-Belton area to be an economic engine and demographic magnet for the foreseeable future and highlighted how the total population within the Belton ISD boundaries – which includes the West Temple boom – up 40% since 2010 to 64,417.
“The under 19 population has increased by approximately 26%, the median household income has increased by approximately 28% and the number of households in the district has increased by approximately 39%…so in the together we are seeing very strong population growth,” he said.
With this rapid growth, Templeton pointed out how the cost of housing is rising.
“We’ve never seen this kind of escalation in housing costs in Texas since I’ve been watching this,” he said. “The average new home price in Belton ISD is over $277,000. Just five years ago it was around $219,000. So we see a fairly steady increase.
He said this trend can also be seen with existing homes — now averaging around $235,000 — and can be attributed to current demand, labor shortages and supply issues.
Despite these challenges, homes continue to be built at Belton ISD. Subdivisions of New West Temple are emerging near some district campuses.
“We have 46 subdivisions under active construction and 13 future subdivisions that we are tracking,” Templeton said.
At Belton ISD, there are nearly 2,000 lots available to build on and approximately 6,380 future lots that are in the planning stage.
These future homes are expected to bring the total number of listings at Belton ISD, which currently stands at 13,354, to 16,645 in 2025-26.
This growth—if no new Belton ISD facilities are built—will cause Chisholm Trail Elementary in Belton and Tarver Elementary in West Temple to exceed capacity this fall. Two West Temple campuses — North Belton Middle School and Lake Belton High School — would exceed capacity in 2024-25, according to Zonda.
“Your bond election ($173.8 million could) allow you to bring in additional capacity that will help those campuses that are over capacity,” Templeton said.
Belton ISD superintendent Matt Smith echoed that sentiment.
“Our district covers almost 200 square miles and we are seeing growth in both the north and the south,” he said. “The areas are far enough apart that we need an option to meet the elemental capacity of both sectors. There is urgency both in the north and in the south.
Smith previously listed the North Gate Subdivision of Temple near North Belton Middle School as the North Primary School site, and the Hubbard Branch Subdivision off OT Tyler Drive, Belle Hubbard Trail and FM 436/Holland Road as the site of southern primary school.
These projects are expected to cost Belton ISD a combined total of $83.7 million, and Smith understands that educating residents about the bond package will be vital as the COVID-19 era has been a financially difficult time for many residents.
“We know this is a tough time for a lot of people…so our focus has been to try to do this in a way that doesn’t raise the tax rate,” Smith said. “As a rapidly growing school district – with more roofs being built and more industries moving in – you end up having more of a tax base in a school district. Because we are growing at such a rapid rate, we have the ability to complete some of these projects without increasing the tax rate (interest and depreciation).
However, some taxpayers could still see their tax bill increase.
“The only way your tax will go up will be if the mean Bell County tax guy shows up that none of us like,” said Ty Taggart, vice chairman of Belton ISD’s board of directors. “My property value for my house has skyrocketed over the past six years. It’s the only way to pay more taxes.
Concerns about property taxes, tax burdens and growing debt prompted the Bell County Republican Party to recently pass a resolution opposing BISD’s bond proposals in the May 7 election.
Belton ISD’s debt burden “will now be close to $600 million in debt with principal and interest,” the resolution says.
Although Salado ISD’s last demographic report was done in 2017, Superintendent Michael Novotny told the Telegram last April that enrollment projections from Templeton Demographics remained mostly accurate.
“It’s been a few years, but we used Templeton Demographics. He did a 10-year projection of enrollment,” he said. “Until (the 2020-21 academic year) we have always been very close to or even a bit ahead of those projections.”
This shortfall in reaching its projected enrollment figure, he pointed out, was largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Novotny expects enrollment figures at Salado ISD – which are last expected to reach 2,308 students in 2022-23 – to rise again.
“I think we will see that growth again,” he said. “We are seeing more and more housing developments. In fact, a large one is opposite (of) our new college.
This development, which is located southwest of the intersection of West Village Road and Williams Road, is an 86.7-acre property designated for mixed use that is expected to bring 175 new homes.
Meanwhile, Temple ISD is expected to serve more than 9,700 students by the 2025-2026 school year, as more than 6,900 future housing lots are planned within its boundaries, according to a demographic report completed in March 2021.
At the time, Templeton pointed out how that growth could bring 600 new homes a year in about five years — projects that would have the biggest zoning impact for Raye-Allen Elementary and Kennedy-Powell Elementary.
“We expect (new homes per year) to grow from 200 to 600 in about five years,” Templeton said at the Temple ISD school board meeting last year.
While these houses may push enrollment on some Temple ISD campuses beyond their “full functional capacity,” the district is currently growing at a slower rate than expected last spring.
Last March, Temple ISD reported a total student enrollment of 8,438 across its 15 campuses, down 436 from where Templeton expected Temple ISD to enroll.
Temple ISD Superintendent Bobby Ott has repeatedly stressed the immediate need for a new elementary school in the district’s southeast quadrant that could be funded by a $164.8 million bond election on May 7.
“It’s a must,” Ott said last February. ” We are growing. If we say no to a new primary school, we say yes to cell phones. So we really need to think about what it means to say no to a new primary school.
Temple ISD had previously indicated that a new elementary school – which would cost around $38.2 million – could take between 18 and 24 months.
Under the proposed new $164.8 million bond package, Temple ISD’s tax rate would increase by nearly 3 cents per $100 of assessed value.
For residents with a home assessment of $200,000, this would mean a $35.40 increase in annual taxes, or $214.60 less than the taxes that would have been paid under the 184 program. .9 million from the district that failed last November.
“We were asked to lower the package…and it’s significantly lower than the last one and the last one fell short by a few votes,” Ott said. “So hopefully the community will once again see that we’ve responded.”